We have a new UVA home run king! 👑
Career HR No. 3️⃣8️⃣ breaks the program's all-time record!
— Virginia Baseball (@UVABaseball) April 11, 2023
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — He gave up the title a quarter-century ago, but there was a time when Mike Lindner was the most prolific home-run hitter in University of Virginia history.
“That’s my claim to fame,” Lindner said with a laugh this week.
In his four seasons (1987-90) on head coach Dennis Womack’s team, Lindner hit 33 home runs, five more than the previous record-holder, Bill Narleski (1984-87). Lindner held the mark until E.J. Anderson broke it eight years later, in 1998. Not that there was any fanfare when Lindner moved to the top of the list.
“Back then we didn’t really have access to all these stats and all this information and all these records,” Lindner said. “None of us had any clue where anybody was in regard to anything.”
He remembers playing first base one day at Davenport Field, where “in the middle of the fifth inning they end up announcing that I have set the record for most home runs ever at UVA,” Lindner said. “And it was like an afterthought. I didn’t even know I had done it. I didn’t even know it was a thing. I don’t think they knew it either. It was almost like somebody sat down and realized it, because it wasn’t like I had just hit the home run. It was a couple days later.”
Lindner laughed. “They said, ‘We just want to let everybody know,’ and the 12 people in attendance clapped.”
Anderson also played four seasons at UVA, and he hit 37 home runs during a college career that ended in 1998. By the time Anderson arrived at UVA, Lindner had dropped to second on the all-time list, behind Jon Benick (1998-2001), who hit 35 homers for the Wahoos. By the time Mark Reynolds (35 homers from 2002-04) left the program, Lindner had fallen to fourth.
Jake Gelof has put them all in his rear-view mirror. Gelof, a junior third baseman, belted his 38th career homer Tuesday at Disharoon Park.
“It was just pure excitement once I saw it land,” Gelof said after No. 7 Virginia’s 18-0 victory over Richmond.
He didn’t hit his first home as a Cavalier until May 28, 2021, against top-seeded Notre Dame in the ACC tournament, but once Gelof started knocking balls out of the park, they kept flying out.
Gelof had four homers, including three in the NCAA tournament, as a freshman. He hit 21—one fewer than the program record set by Brian Buchanan in 1994—as a sophomore. He’s up to 13 this season, with many more games to come.
“Not that he’s up there trying to hit home runs,” UVA head coach Brian O’Connor said Tuesday night at the Dish, “but now he’s got a chance to give himself some distance from whoever’s the next great future home-run hitter in this program.”
Lindner, who lives in New Jersey, has been following Gelof’s pursuit of the record, and “it’s been kind of funny watching as Jake’s been doing this. I keep getting messages from people: ‘Another one’s passing you. Pretty soon you’re not even going to be on the list anymore.’ ”
O’Connor’s first season at Virginia was 2004. His predecessor, Womack, coached the Hoos for 23 years. Womack still lives in the Charlottesville area, and he was at Disharoon Park on Sunday to see Gelof hit two homers as UVA completed a series sweep of ACC rival Miami.
“I tell you what,” Womack said, “the first one got out pretty quick, and the second one went a long ways.”
Among many standouts over the years, Womack coached Lindner, Narleski, Buchanan, Benick, Anderson and, for two seasons, Reynolds.
Gelof “gets the ball up in the air pretty good—high, long, towering home runs—and that was kind of the same thing that Mark Reynolds did, as did Lindner,” Womack said.
“E.J. was a little different. E.J. did get the ball up occasionally. He’s one of those guys who as a left-handed hitter has hit the track [beyond the stadium in right field] in the air at UVA, and that’s not necessarily easy to do. But E.J. hit some of the hardest line-drive home runs I’ve ever seen. Those, I think, set him aside in terms of the type of home runs he hit. Reynolds got the ball up in the air, and he hit some long home runs, too. But E.J.’s are the ones that got out in a hurry, you might say.
“There were some balls that he would hit that you’d think, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s going to hurt somebody.’ He was one of those guys that just had that little extra pop.”
The Cavaliers’ stadium, which was renamed Disharoon Park before the 2018 season, is 332 feet down each line, 370 feet in the gaps, and 404 feet to center. The Dish’s dimensions are similar to those found at Charles Schwab Field, which hosts the College World Series every June in Omaha, Neb.
Womack’s players didn’t have benefit of hitting in such an intimate setting at home. Until the fences were brought in after the 2005 season, Davenport Field was 352 feet down each line.
“So [a home run] was a little bit of a poke,” said Lindner, who hit right-handed. “I remember at Georgia Tech, I thought, ‘Man, if I played in this field, there’s like 10 or 15 balls that were caught on the warning track [at Davenport Field] that would have been home runs.’ ”
Benick, a switch-hitter, transferred to UVA after one season at Auburn. Virginia’s competition for Benick included Richmond, whose Pitt Field was considerably more favorable than Davenport Field for power hitters.
“I used to kid Jon,” Womack recalled. “I’d say, ‘Benick, if you had signed with Richmond, you might have hit 50 home runs.’ There’s some balls that he hit at UVA that would have probably been home runs in most other ball parks.”
Benick said: “It was always a little frustrating. You’d see [Mark] Teixeira at Georgia Tech hitting 30. You’d go down there and the park was like 300 feet all the way around the fences, and we played in this monster park.”
A Charlottesville resident, Benick hit all of his collegiate home runs as a Cavalier. He hadn’t been tracking Gelof’s ascent in the record book, “but I knew he hit a ton [of homers] last year,” Benick said.
After college, Benick played in the minor leagues for five years. When he played at UVA, the baseball team did not receive the maximum number of scholarships (11.7) allowed under NCAA rules, but the level of support has increased significantly over the past two decades. Under O’Connor, the Cavaliers have made five trips to the College World Series, and they won the NCAA title in 2015.
“It’s just too good of an institution to not have a good baseball team once they invested in it and moved it along,” Benick said.
Lindner attends the team’s Step Up to the Plate event most years and follows the program closely.
“It’s definitely on a whole different level than when I played,” Lindner said. “It’s been fun watching Virginia baseball become one of the elite programs in the country, because as I’ve gotten older and I have kids and they have people who are involved in sports, they see UVA baseball and they see how magical that team can be and how great they are. And then when they hear I played for UVA, they automatically think, ‘Oh, my God! You played for one of the best teams in the country, one of the national powers,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, that’s who I played for.’
“I don’t bother pointing out to them that we had some good teams, but we were not national contenders every year. We were middle of the pack in the ACC. We were a good program for what we had in terms of resources, scholarships, the ability to attract talent and so forth. But again, it’s been fun. The better they get, the better it seems I get in hindsight.”
Lindner marvels at what Gelof has accomplished in only two-plus seasons at UVA.
“I had an extra year to pad my stats,” Lindner said. “That’s one of the reasons I was able to get on that list a little. With a lot of the talent that’s come through UVA [recently], when they’re that good or they’re going to put up the home-run numbers, they don’t stick around for the fourth year.”
Those talented players have included Jake’s brother, Zack, who was a three-year starter at third base for UVA. The Oakland Athletics drafted Zack, who hit 16 homers for the Cavaliers, in the second round of the 2021 Major League Baseball draft.
The younger Gelof didn’t become a starter at UVA until past the midpoint of his freshman season, and that was because of an injury to a teammate. But he earned All-America honors last year and figures to collect many more accolades this season. Heading into Virginia’s home game with Mount St. Mary’s on Wednesday, Gelof was hitting .374 with a team-high 14 doubles and three triples, and he led the ACC with 54 RBI.
“He’s a great example [of what happens] if you work hard and you get the opportunity,” O’Connor said, “and he’s been rewarded for going out there and being aggressive and getting his money’s worth. He’s a great, great player, one of the great players in our storied history, for sure, and I’m just real proud of him.”
Womack said: “What an accomplishment in only three seasons, and best of all, he is not finished!”
The Gelof brothers, who grew up in Rehoboth Beach, Del., were teammates at UVA in 2021. The Cavaliers advanced to the College World Series that year, and Jake is looking to return to Omaha this season.
The home-run record is “a cool thing to have,” Gelof said, “but I still got a lot more work to do.”
It was hard to tell who was more happier for Gelof as he circled the bases Tuesday, his teammates or the Cavaliers’ fans.
“It was great,” O’Connor said after the game. “Obviously everybody was aware that he tied the record on Sunday against Miami. It’s a family. The team’s a family and they’re rooting for him, and so are the fans. They’re knowledgeable and they know what’s going on.
“To witness a guy break the career home-run record was a lot of fun. I’m glad I was here today.”
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